FEBRUARY 2002: GRIMSBY 0 CITY 1 (Carbone 61)

THE Bantams will be visiting Blundell Park for the first time in nine years when they head east this weekend.

But they are unbeaten in four trips to Cleethorpes since the turn of the century, a run began by a relegation slog illuminated by a moment of individual brilliance.

Turn back the clock to 2002 when both clubs were embroiled in the fight to stay in the second tier. City would achieve that goal – but were hurtling towards the first of two administrations in the space of three years.

Debts were mounting and the imminent crash of ITV Digital pulled the rug from under many clubs; the Bantams, still weighed down by the financial largesse of Geoffrey Richmond’s “six weeks of madness” 18 months earlier, were hit harder than most.

The biggest legacy, on a £40,000 a week wage, was Benito Carbone; an exceptional player on exceptional and completely unsustainable money.

But few finer footballers have graced the claret and amber. His range of tricks was a joy to watch while the cash burden was dragging the club towards oblivion.

Grimsby would be the stage for the last of the Italian’s 48 City appearances and his 12th goal.

Carbone had not wanted to still be with the Bantams at that point but a loan spell with Derby in the Premiership had not led to anything permanent.

Middlesbrough were also keen and would take him back to the top flight the following week.

In between, his return to Valley Parade was surrounded by controversy.

Boss Nicky Law named him on the bench for a midweek game against Preston – and Carbone refused.

City whacked him with a maximum fine of two week’s wages and he was rolled out for a bizarre “mea culpa” interview in the T&A.

It was scripted to the extent that Richmond had made it clear exactly what he would be saying two hours before this reporter drove up to Carbone’s luxury Leeds home.

Bottom kicked and pocket lightened, Carbone was then recalled to the starting line-up to face Grimsby. Law wanted to see him doing his talking on the pitch.

The home fans shouted abuse every time he got near the ball. But it was not his short fuse that would explode.

Grimsby’s frustration was already bubbling at their failure to get past debutant keeper Alan Combe.

Signed two days before from Dundee United, the Scot wasted no time in making his mark with a point-blank block from home striker Robert Taylor in the first minute.

Combe admitted to plenty of pre-match nerves but they were instantly blown away – even if he did modestly claim later that he knew little about the save.

But it set the tone for an afternoon when nothing would go right for the Mariners, especially when they went down to 10 men right on half-time.

Taylor’s contest ended prematurely when he was red-carded for kicking out at Steve Caldwell.

City made their advantage count just before the hour – and inevitably it came from Carbone.

John McDermott conceded a free-kick on the edge of the Grimsby D and Carbone whipped an unstoppable right footer over the wall and into the far corner of the net.

The script had been written and the Italian was forgiven by his team-mates as he disappeared in a mob of celebration.

As Grimsby desperately chased an equaliser, Combe produced a flying finger-tap save to deny Menno Willems and protect City’s first clean sheet in 13 games.

Carbone was having fun by now and set up Ashley Ward for a close-range header that his strike partner should have buried before floating another shot over the bar.

That would turn out to be his final action in a City shirt.

GRIMSBY: Coyne, McDermott (Butterfield 88), Ford, Raven, Gallimore, Pouton (Jevons 79), Coldicott, Willems, Campbell, Taylor, Boulding.

CITY: Combe, Halle, Caldwell, Myers, Jacobs, Lawrence, Jorgensen (Grant 89), McCall, Sharpe (Jess 66), Carbone, Ward.

REFEREE: Michael Ryan